« PreviousContinue »
due performance, is A LOW STATE OF SPIRITUAL PERCEPTION AND FEELING. There are seasons when the Bible fails to attract its proper share of attention, even in the instance of sincere Christians; and when its influence on the heart, is so faint and dubious, as to be hardly perceptible;-when spiritual things seem almost as though they were not, and when even the sabbath proves a weariness ;when the soul would seem to be falling back into its former state, as being, along with the body, of the earth, earthy. In our natural state, if secret prayers are ever offered, the spirit of prayer must certainly have been wanting. And in every interval of declension, after we have passed from that state, it is the coldness, the irregularity, or, perhaps, the total neglect of private prayer, which affords the earliest indication of our guilt and danger. That part of religion which is seen of men, may remain much as it was; while, for a considerable space, that which is only seen of God has been descending toward the point of extinction. A fearful sleep may have come over the faculties, and the chill of spiritual death be upon them. The causes which too frequently produce this state of mind among Christians, are various; and so, of course, are the means by which we should seek to counteract them.
It is hardly doubtful, that, in some cases, effects of this nature may be traced, at least in part, to the disproportionate attention which is given to public duties. The attention we mean is of course that, which is manifestly incompatible with an
adequate regard to more private obligations. It is sometimes much easier to be employed in putting the church and the world right, than in putting ourselves right. There may be many things without, that need reforming; but often as we are reminded of the danger of forgetting, we still do forget, that reformation is a work which should begin at home. It is not always borne in mind, that a zeal for charitable or religious objects, is not of necessity the same thing with a zeal for charity, or religion. And even where there is a mixture of good and enlightened motive, such employments may so absorb the attention and feelings, as to render the man a comparative stranger to his own heart; and this is a delinquency, that must carry spiritual declension along with it, and one for which no amount of public service can atone. It is promised indeed, that those who water others, shall themselves be watered. But it is not promised that the unweeded, the neglected garden, should be fruitful.
It must, at the same time, be confessed, that an excess of public spirit is not the besetting sin of our nature. We have much more to apprehend from selfish indolence, or from an excessive application to such pursuits as involve our personal interest. Still there is often room to fear, lest we should be found substituting the bustle, and applause, of public engagements, in the place of the less ostentatious, and more laborious duties, of thoughtfulness, self-examination, and supplication before God.
THE CARES, AND VEXATIONS, OF WORLDLY EMPLOYMENTS constitute another frequent occasion of deadness to religious objects; and of consequent incapacity to participate, largely, in the benefits of private devotion. The mind becomes strongly imbued with the element to which it is inured; and, in the case now adverted to, the effect must often be, a perplexed understanding, and an enfeebled heart. There are pursuits, moreover, which are above the ordinary level of worldly occupation, but which have the same kind of danger attendant upon them. We refer to employments of a more intellectual character, such as those of literature, science, and art. These have a power to abstract the mind from much of what is earthly; but, unhappily, they have the same potency to exclude the thoughts and emotions that should connect us with the heavenly. Every good man, who has possessed the ability and concentration necessary to excel in such things, has been painfully alive to this fact.
But of all the causes producing that deadness of spirit, which disqualifies us for communion with God, the most perilous, IS KNOWN SINFUL INDULGENCE. Men will not often fail to hate their enemies; but, it generally happens, that they hate those whom they have deeply injured still more. This results, in part, from that self-reproach, which the recollection of such conduct must awaken; and sometimes from the fear of that resentment, which is felt to have been justly incurred. Now
sin is an injury done to God; and the consciousness of having done it, not only tends to weaken every principle and feeling of piety, but to dispose the offender, unless sincerely penitent, to restrain prayer, to attempt an avoidance of his Maker's presence, after the manner of the first transgressor. To trifle with sin, is, of necessity, to lose our relish for devotion.
If such are the causes, which very commonly produce spiritual apathy, and unfitness for secret worship, how are they to be counteracted? Should there not be a more careful attention bestowed on the relative claims of our various employments? Have we not reason to suspect, that the frequent substitution of any kind of public, or even of family duty, in the place of private reading, self-investigation, and calling upon God, is the work of our subtle adversary? We cannot pretend that such duties, important as they may be, can furnish any valid excuse for the neglect of a certain, and most sacred obligation. We must be aware also, if we are Christians, that such a derangement of the revealed appointments of infinite wisdom and benevolence, could never be assented to by us, were we as enlightened and spiritual as we should be. There are not wanting examples of men, who have been, in an eminent degree, the laborious benefactors of their race, and, at the same time, habitual and fervent in their devotion,-at home, alike, in the field of honourable exertion, and in the solitude of private intercourse with heaven. Thus the
prayers and the alms of Cornelius went up together before God. Thus the apostle of the Gentiles, who exceeded all his brethren in activity, was not behind one of them, in bowing his knee, before the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And when he required Christians to be diligent in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, he well knew that he did not mock their weakness, by urging what was impossible.
There are two expedients, which have especially served to keep alive a prayerful state of mind, amid the pressure, and distraction, occasioned by present things. These consist, in a determination to have a fixed season for the exercise adverted to; and also, in an effort to bring the mind into the habit of seizing on the smallest fragments of time, for the purpose of presenting those brief aspirations, or broken petitions, which frequently ascend acceptably to heaven, from the most crowded and hurried scenes of our world.
If no season be fixed upon, as that which shall be scrupulously given to private devotion, the probability is fearfully on the side of its being wholly neglected; or, at best, only very partially, and unhappily performed. If the thought be entertained, that there are other engagements, which may justify, even an occasional omission of this duty, it may be safely concluded that such engagements will prove of very frequent occurrence. Leave it as a thing to be done at any time, and it will generally remain undone. Allow that other